Home > Week of Prayer for Christian Unity > Prayer and Worship: Ecumenical Situation in Brazil

JANUARY 18–25, 2015

PRAYER / WORSHIP: The Ecumenical Context of the Church in Brazil

2015 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Brazil can be considered a very religious country. It is traditionally known as a country where a certain “cordiality” characterizes relations between social classes and ethnic groups. However, Brazil is living through a time of growing intolerance made manifest in high levels of violence, especially against minorities and the vulnerable:  black people, the young, homosexual people, people practicing Afro-Brazilian religion, women, and indigenous people. This intolerance was hidden for a long time. It became more explicit and revealed a different Brazil when, on October 12 1995, the feast of Our Lady Aparecida, the patron of the country, one of the bishops of a Neo-pentecostal church kicked a statue of Our Lady Aparecida during a national TV broadcast. Ever since there have been other instances of Christian based religious intolerance. There have also been similar incidents of Christian intolerance towards other religions, particularly Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous traditions.

The logic that undergirds this kind of behaviour is competition for the religious market. Increasingly, in Brazil, some Christian groups adopt a competitive attitude towards one another: a competition for a place on mass media, and a competition for new members and public funds for major events. Pope Francis points to this very phenomenon when he writes, “Spiritual worldliness leads some Christians to war with other Christians who stand in the way of their quest for power, prestige, pleasure and economic security” (Evangelii Gaudium #98).

This situation of religious competition has affected the life of traditional Christian confessions, which have experienced a reduction or stagnation in the number of their members. It has encouraged the idea that a strong and dynamic church is a church that has a high number of members. As a result, there is a tendency among significant sectors of traditional churches to distance themselves from the search for the visible unity of the Christian church.

This market-driven Christianity is investing in party politics, and, in some cases, creating its own political parties. It is allying itself with specific interest groups such as big landowners, Agro-business and the financial markets. Some observers go as far as speaking of the confessionalization of political life, which threatens the separation between state and religion. Thus the ecumenical logic of breaking down the walls of division is replaced by a “corporativist” logic and the protection of denominational interests. 

Although the 2010 official Census shows that 86.8% of the Brazilian population identify themselves as Christian, this country has very high rates of violence. Thus a high rate of Christian affiliation does not seem to translate into non-violent attitudes and respect for human dignity. This statement can be illustrated with the following data:

Violence against women: between 2000 and 2010, 43,700 women were murdered in Brazil. Forty one per cent of these women who suffer violence, are violated in their own homes.

Violence against indigenous people: violence against the indigenous population is often related to large hydroelectric developments and the expansion of Agro-business. These two projects express the model of development prevailing in the country today. They contribute significantly to the slow demarcation and recognition of indigenous territories. In 2011, the report “Violence against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil” of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), an organism connected with the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops of Brazil, identified 450 developments underway on indigenous lands in Brazil. These developments take place without proper consultation with indigenous peoples as envisaged in the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). CPT’s report denounces the murder of 500 indigenous people between 2003 and 2011; 62.7% of these are in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The annual murder average is 55.8 natives.

Overcoming intolerance in its various forms should be dealt with in a positive way respecting legitimate diversity and promoting dialogue as a permanent path of reconciliation and peace in fidelity to the gospel.

4. Hermeneutical choice

The methodology adopted by CEBI, and widely practiced across Latin America, is called the Contextual Reading of the Bible. This is both an academic and a popular approach to the biblical text.

In this methodology, the starting point for any biblical theology and interpretation is daily life. We adopt the approach of Jesus on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-24): What is going on? What are you talking about? From the context we move to the Biblical text. In this methodological journey the Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119, 105). We take the Bible as a flashlight to illuminate the path of our lives. The biblical text teaches us and transforms us so that we may bear testimony to God’s will in the context in which we live.